iPhone 5: A Catalyst for LTE Roaming?
Like many of you, I watched a live blog of the iPhone 5 announcement. I do like the improvements and for once, most of the rumors were true. I won’t go into things like the larger display, camera, and docking connector changes.
At first, I was disappointed that there was not an NFC chip – something competitor Samsung has included in the Galaxy III. Of course there are others as well. But for lack of a ubiquitous Point of Sale capability, this is still likely a little used feature and a critical mass of consumers using a common NFC technology is still several years away. But, Apple will introduce Passbook in iOS 6.0 and this will help build that critical mass of consumers – first using it for tickets, boarding passes, coupons and probably other CRM-related materials. It will likely be a short jump to “mobile wallet” functionality – probably a decision that we’ll all look back upon and recall about how Apple was right to wait. I for one, am excited about this iOS 6.0 feature; however, there is a growing debate on Passbook and the lack of NFC.
Otherwise, I am quite excited to see LTE support in the new iPhone 5 and global LTE support, at that. Currently there are actually three versions that are launching:
- Model A1428 (GSM) – Supports AWS and 700b LTE Bands for AT&T as well as Bell, Rogers, and Telus in Canada
- Model A1429 (CDMA) – Supports 2100, 1800, 850, 700c and 1900 MHz LTE Bands. For the US – that’s Sprint and Verizon as well as KDDI in Japan. (that’s 5 bands – impressive !)
- Model A1429 (GSM) – Supports 2100, 1800, 850 LTE Bands. Operators include Deutsche Telecom (T-Mobile) Germany; Everything Everywhere in the UK; Optus and Telstra in Australia; Softbank in Japan, SK Telecom, and KT in Korea; SmarTone in Hong Kong and M1 and SingTel in Singapore.
Note that there are overlaps between Model A1429 CDMA and Model A1429 GSM across 850, 1800, and 2100 frequencies – meaning it would be likely that, once LTE Roaming is operational, that a Verizon or Sprint subscriber could theoretically connect to Everything Everywhere in the UK or roam to Optus or Telsta; however, it also depends on the bands that each operator supports. For example, right now, Verizon really only supports the 700c band. That means an Optus subscriber might not be able to roam to Verizon’s network in the US, using their iPhone 5; however, the Verizon subscriber’s iPhone 5 does support 5 LTE bands and would be able to roam.
The Global mobile Suppliers Association notes that 32 commercial LTE1800 systems around the world have been launched, with another 20 in deployment.It is likely that the A1429 (CDMA and GSM) models may actually roam on quite a few networks; however, I’m quite worried about the Model A1428 (GSM) – the US AT&T version, as it does not support the LTE1800 band. This could ultimately influence AT&T’s uptake of the iPhone 5 among world travelers. I don’t understand why LTE1800 was not supported. For that matter, the LTE 2600 band is also missing from these models – another common worldwide LTE frequency band.
Certainly, some work will need to be done to map out all of the roaming compatibilities and something that I expect we will be doing in the coming weeks as well. Because it does depend on operator supported bands as well as, bands supported on the handset. LTE is highly fragmented across the world when it comes to frequencies.
Still this device will help sow the seeds for LTE roaming and, as it has done for many features, will act as a catalyst for operators to move ahead with their LTE roaming plans – especially those that support the most popular, worldwide LTE frequency band.
Another area that is not really addressed with iPhone 5 is Voice over LTE (or VoLTE). VoLTE needs network support, and today only a couple of Korean operators and metroPCS in the US support VoLTE. Others, such as Verizon are talking about deploying it soon. So, next week, when iPhone 5 hits the street, LTE will not be used for voice – at least until there is more widespread network support. But, VoLTE support might be something that could be updated in a software revision, later on. For now, the iPhone 5 will likely use circuit-switch fallback for voice.
Like other iPhone generations before, iPhone 5’s features are implemented exceptionally well, and I believe their conservative approach to LTE integration will be likely the best way forward.